Sara Cherry, Ph.D.

Therapeutics Group Lead

Lab Website

Contact Information

University of Pennsylvania
3450 Hamilton Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104


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Cherry Lab Website


B.S. (Chemistry) U.C. Berkeley, 1994. Ph.D. (Biology) MIT, 2000.

Description of Research Expertise

Research Interests
Genetic and mechanistic studies of viral-host interactions

Key words:
emerging virus, coronavirus, arbovirus, genomics, antivirals, genetics, Drosophila, innate, immunity

Description of Research
The Cherry Lab is interested in genetic and mechanistic studies of viral-host interactions. The Lab uses chemical and genetic screening technologies to explore the interface between viruses and hosts. The laboratory performs a wide array of cell-based screens in human and insect cells studying emerging viruses with a historical focus on arthropod-borne viruses such as chikungunya and zika virus. Innate immunity is the first line of defense against viruses and much of the recognition of these invaders is at the level of nucleic acid recognition. Arthropod-borne human viruses are RNA viruses and we are examining the role of RNA binding proteins and the RNA decay machinery in innate antiviral defense against these viruses in human cells. Since these viruses can infect diverse tissues we are also exploring antiviral innate signaling activities in distinct cell types including neurons, endothelial cells, and myeloid lineages. We have demonstrated cell-type specific immune pathways. Moreover, as these arthropod-borne viruses infect the vector insect enterically, we use Drosophila to model these intestinal infections to explore the role of the microbiota and innate defenses in the gut in the response to enteric arboviral infections. Projects include understanding how dysbiosis impacts susceptibility and discovering the bacterial products that impact infection. The recent coronavirus pandemic has led us to use our screening technologies to identify drugs that have antiviral activity as well as the role of innate pathways in controlling infection of SARS-CoV-2 in respiratory cells. The laboratory has many projects exploring diverse areas of viral-host interactions and innate immunity.
In addition, the Cherry lab has extended their studies to precision medicine and oncology. In collaborations across UPENN including the high-throughput screening core, oncologists, and pathologists the lab has developed a pipeline to test patient tumor cells for sensitivities to chemotherapeutics in an effort to personalize treatments. Work in acute myelogenous leukemia has demonstrated clear differences in patient responses and has uncovered new dependencies that will be translated into new treatment strategies in the future.

Rotation Projects:
Interested students can work on diverse aspects of viral-host interactions of emerging viruses from arboviruses to coronaviruses. They can involve the study of factors that facilitate infection such as entry pathways or the study of innate immune mechanisms at play.

Lab personnel:
Megha Basavappa– IGG MD/Ph.D. Student
Jorge Acuña– CAMB Ph.D. Student
Trevor Griesman– CAMB Ph.D. Student
Iulia Tapescu– BMB Ph.D. Student
Matt Tracey– BMB Ph.D. Student
Rachel Braun – BMB Ph.D. Student
Guangda Shi– Postdoctoral Fellow
Jaeseung Lee– Postdoctoral Fellow
Max Ferretti– Postdoctoral Fellow
Minghua Li– Postdoctoral Fellow
Steven Miller– Postdoctoral Fellow
Zienab Etwebi– Postdoctoral Fellow
Beth Gold– Research Technician
Alex Huber– Research Specialist
Jesse Hulahan– Research Specialist
Jesse Miller– Research Specialist
Kasirajan Ayyanathan– Research Specialist

Selected Publications

Sansone, C., Cohen, J., Yasunaga, A., Xu, J., Osborn, G., Subramanian, H., Gold, B., Buchon, N. and Cherry, S.: Microbiota-dependent priming of antiviral intestinal immunity in Drosophila. Cell Host Microbe 18(5): 571-81, Nov 2015 Notes: Spotlight in Trends in Microbiology, News and Views, Nature Microbiology.

Beiting, D.P., Hidano, S. Fang, Q. Baggs, J.E., Geskes, J.M., Wherry, J.E., Hunter, C.A., Roos, D.S., and Cherry, S. : A Genomic Screen Identifies the Orphan Nuclear Receptor TLX as an Enhancer of STAT1-mediated Transcription and Immunity to Toxoplasma gondii. PLOS Biology 13(7): e1002200, 2015 Notes: Synopsis in PLOS Biology.

Hopkins, K.C., Tartell, M.A., Herrmann, C., Hackett, B.A., Taschuk, F., Panda, D., Menghani, S., Sabin, L.R., Cherry, S.: Virus-induced translational arrest through 4EBP1/2-dependent decay of 5’TOP mRNAs restricts viral infection. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112(22): E2920-9, Jun 2015.

Hackett, B.A., Yasunaga, A., Panda, D., Tartell, M., Hopkins, K., Hensley, S.E., and Cherry S: RNASEK is required for internalization of diverse acid-dependent viruses. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112(25): 7797-802, Jun 2015 Notes: Epub 2015 Jun 8.

Moy, R.H, Cole, B.S., Yasunaga, A., Gold, B., Shankarling, G., Varble, A. Molleston, J., tenOever, B.R., Lynch, K.W. and Cherry S. : Stem loop recognition by DDX17 facilitates miRNA processing and antiviral defense. Cell 178(4): 764-77, Aug 2014.

Panda, D., Pascual-Garcia, P., Dunagin, D., Tudor, M., Hopkins, K.C., Xu, J., Gold, B., Raj, A., Capelson, M. and Cherry, S. : Nup98 promotes antiviral gene expression to restrict RNA virus infection in Drosophila. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111(37): E3890-9, 2014.

Scientific Groups